Overuse of antibiotics can lessen their effects

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Overuse of antibiotics can lessen their effects


Dear Pam,

My daughter has a cold. Should I start her on antibiotics to prevent an infection?

Antibiotics have been developed to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. Resistance to an antibiotic can develop if the drug is used too often or when not needed. An infection can return if the antibiotics used against it no longer work. Newer and stronger drugs are then needed to kill the infection-causing bacteria. The appropriate use of antibiotics is the best way to ensure that they remain useful in treating bacterial infections.

Certain bacterial infections require antibiotics for treatment. Viruses such as the common cold, gastroenteritis and the flu will not improve with antibiotics.

Community acquired pneumonia is a serious infection causing inflammation in the lungs. Pneumonia can develop when bacteria enter the lungs.

At highest risk are the elderly, people who have low resistance to infections, and those who have chronic illnesses such as lung disease, liver disease or cancer.

Chronic bronchitis is a chronic cough for more than three months during at least two consecutive years. This results from inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Thick mucus builds up, plugging the tubes, and producing a chronic, nagging cough. Some people may also have difficulty breathing. Heavy cigarette smoking over a long period is the main cause of chronic bronchitis. People who are exposed to high levels of air pollution, chemical fumes or dust can also get chronic bronchitis.

The sinuses are air-filled cavities located in the bones of the head surrounding the nose. Sinus secretions increase with a cold. The lining of the sinuses becomes swollen, irritated and clogged with extra mucus. In this setting, bacteria easily grow and severe infection may develop. Some patients develop sinusitis without a preceding cold. Acute maxillary sinusitis is an infection in the sinuses located in the cheekbones.

Uncomplicated skin infections involve the superficial skin structures. They are most commonly caused by the bacteria Staphyloccus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes and may include abscesses, boils and impetigo.

Complicated Skin Infections involve the deeper soft tissue of the skin. The type of bacteria causing the infection will depend on the location of the lesion and the health of the person infected. Complicated skin infections may include cellulitis, skin ulcers, and wound infections.

Genitourinary Tract Infections are caused by the growth of bacteria in the urinary or reproductive tract. Bacteria may enter the body through the urethra.

A bacterial infection of one or both kidneys is known as pyelonephritis. It can occur at the same time as another urinary tract infection. A kidney stone, an enlargement of the prostate, or the restricted flow of urine from the bladder increases the chances of a kidney infection.

If you do develop a bacterial infection, follow these tips on how and when to take antibiotics:

  • Take antibiotics exactly as directed.

  • Take antibiotics at the same time each day.

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you miss a dose.

  • Tell your healthcare provider about other medications you are taking.

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any allergies.

  • Ask your healthcare professional how to take antibiotics properly-how often, with or without food.

  • Finish all antibiotics prescribed for you.

  • Do not save any antibiotics for the next time you get sick.

  • Do not take an antibiotic prescribed for someone else.

  • Notify your doctor if you think you are experiencing any side effects.

  • Antibiotics are not needed for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.

This article was originally published July 14, 2003 in The St. Tammany News.

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